In the essay Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood, Richard Rodriguez shows how he struggled and tried to study English after his Spanish-speaking Mexican family had moved to the United States. The issue of language has been crucial throughout his life. In his attempts to become a typical English-speaking student, he hardly lost his family life. However, he understood that speaking English fluently could help him to become a member of the new society, without feeling like an alien. Besides memories, Rodriguez describes his views and opinions regarding bilingual education. The personality and experience of Rodriguez depicted in the essay prove that language plays an essential role in identity formation.
First, Rodriguez differentiates between the complete immersion and bilingual types of education and describes their impact on private and personal identity, as well as relationships with family. He received an immersion education, which means total assimilation with the new language and society. Unfortunately, the cultural heritage of the ancestors may lose its importance in the process of immersion. Therefore, the complete infusion into a new culture can be harmful to an immigrant child as it can prevent the formation of the family identity. On the other hand, bilingual education does not mean to ruin the family identity. Instead, such a program allows immigrant children, often from poor families, to use their native language at school. However, Rodriguez argues that bilingual education also has disadvantages because it prevents students from developing the public identity (212). Moreover, he provides the argument that one cannot grow up among whites and still retain Hispanic cultural identity. He considers that it is impossible for immigrants to become complete members of the English-speaking society without leaving behind family language, trying to assimilate, and learning English and a new culture. Only in this case, they can completely assimilate into the new society (Rodriguez 214).
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Furthermore, Rodriguez concedes the argument that members of minority groups often face discrimination from members of majority populations. Not only immigrant children but also adults can feel uncomfortable and face hardship when trying to become a part of a new society, different from their native one. Spanish students usually feel scared of English lessons at school and when they have to speak English at school, they often lose their earlier senses of homes as special places. The author believes that if Spanish-speaking children learn to speak English, it would be much easier for the whole family to integrate into the culture of the majority and develop a public identity, without losing a family one (Rodriguez 218).
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As mentioned above, the most difficult thing for immigrants is to acquire and use a new language. Adapting to a new environment is always a hard process. In Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood, the author speaks about two sides of his childhood and his attempts to show his Spanish private identity and his English public identity. Rodriguez highlights that public language is necessary to gain social and political advantages (220). Sharing his memories, Rodriguez writes that he was able to achieve public identity only after learning the English language. He often writes about “public individuality,” meaning a person who speaks “public language” and who has managed to assimilate (Rodriquez 220).
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According to Richard’s views, the English language could be the only way to prosper in America as it is not possible for pupils to use their family language at school. However, he admits that the Spanish language makes him feel proud of his Mexican culture. Immigrants’ family language cannot belong to the U.S. school. However, it strengthens immigrants’ feelings regarding their heritage. The most right decision is to make the family language be a part of the private life not a part of a larger community or education. Rodriguez claims that holding onto one’s own cultural identity can be as valuable as seeking assimilation (219). People should neither forget their native language nor neglect it. All people should always be proud of their mother tongue as a part of their culture because language is the main link that connects them with their identity.
In conclusion, the role of the English language is one of the most important and controversial questions in the American society. The childhood story which Rodriguez tells should be more than enough to convince anyone that it is imperative that the English language is not forced upon everyone who lives in the United States. Rodriguez considers Spanish as a private language and English as a public one. The author puts an emphasis on the role of language in his life and in the lives of all immigrants who face many problems entering the United States with an unfamiliar language. This essay focuses on adaptation and integration into a new country and society by learning the language. According to Rodriguez, assimilation does not mean immersion. In other words, it does not mean that immigrants should blend in, therefore losing their identity. On the contrary, they should receive acceptance of the society without forgetting their cultural heritage. To achieve this, they should learn a new language, as well as speak and write in English, gradually overcoming all difficulties and language barriers. Language is like a key which opens the door to the new possibilities and contributes to the formation of identity.